Alarms are alarming! The snooze button might seem like a friend on mornings when you’re jolted awake by a buzzer, bell, or blast of music. When you haven’t had adequate rest, groping to silence that horrible jangle for “just a few more minutes” might feel merciful.
Unfortunately, it’s not. When you fall back to sleep for a short interval, you set off a cascade of reactions that add up to a LESS-rested feeling all day, and a very slow awakening.
Think a few minutes’ more will make you more alert at a morning meeting? That quick snooze means your full cognitive abilities won’t get up to speed for hours. You’ll wake more slowly and much more painfully the second time than if you just hit the deck when you first hear the alarm.
The Dozy Delusion
Here’s what happens when you snatch a second snooze before getting up. You drop-kick your brain back to the very beginning of the sleep cycle, which is the worst point at which to be awakened. And how do you feel?
Underwater, foggy, even confused. The scientific name for the natural, slow-waking state is sleep inertia. Normally, after an adequate night’s sleep, you’ll shrug off those sluggish sensations in a very few minutes. Your basic brain functions start up instantly, but things like memory, decision-making, reaction time, alertness, and attention are slower to come online.
When you sink back to sleep and are yanked awake a second time, however, the normal few minutes of sleep inertia become physiologically two to four hours. Even longer periods aren’t uncommon. You may think you’re functioning fine, but you’re actually sub-par.
What’s the solution? It may seem obvious, but going to bed earlier and sleeping long enough so that you can wake without any alarm is ideal. What’s more ideal, but more complicated, is to explore whether you can plan to sleep more closely to a natural sleep cycle, rather than the one the world seems to run by. It’s unlikely to be practical for most of us, but scientists say the benefits would be enormous.
Munich researcher Till Roennenberg has found that 70% of the population suffers from “social jetlag” — being forced to wake up and function more than an hour before their natural readiness. This gap means they arrive at work or school before they’re able to perform at their best, and the cognitive deficit lasts for hours. What’s worse is that chronic sleep loss from forced awakenings contributes to obesity and higher risks for diseases (cancer, potentially fatal heart conditions, and diabetes among them) — not to mention alcoholism, accidents, addictions and other woes.
The snooze button, however tempting, can never make up for a constructed world that’s out of whack with human rhythms. How to cope? Your most realistic defense is to train yourself to go to bed earlier. You’ll sacrifice some evening freedoms, but your social jetlag can be reduced.
A Star-gazing Solution
What else can you do until the culture copes with circadian realities? You can go camping — leaving all light-emitting devices off or at home. A complete retreat from artificial light stimulation (and alarm clocks) will reset your natural sleep-wake rhythms in just a few days. Then when you get back to the un-natural world, do your best to keep the dream of good rest alive.
A regular, earlier bedtime — and getting all the way back to nature now and then — can really help. You can get a lot closer to a sleep routine that won’t require a brutal morning alarm — and won’t tempt you with that sinister snooze.